He boils down the difference between literary and commercial fiction as this:
In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface.I, personally, see this to mean pretty much the same as character-driven vs. plot-driven. The important thing he points out, though, is that literary doesn't mean "plotless." Things must happen--it's just that the changes take place inside the character. It is the character's inner journey that is most important.
This is why the books I mentioned in my last post are considered literary even though their style is very commercial/mainstream. Thirteen Reasons Why and Hold Still are the stories of the inner journeys of teens dealing with the suicide of a friend/classmate. Things do happen in the story. Those things create changes in the character, and those changes are the ultimate focus of the book. The book cannot, as Bransford says, simply be "a character musing about the vagaries and eccentricities of everyday existence."
I also like Bransford's description of genre fiction:
Most genre fiction involves a character propelling themselves through a world. The character is an active protagonist who goes out into a world, experiences the challenges of that world, and emerges either triumphant or defeated.The character can--and in good genre/commercial fiction does--experience inner change during this process. But that change is generally secondary to the main, "outer" plot. In the Harry Potter series, for example, Harry grows up and grows stronger, discovering all sorts of things about himself as a person, but the main focus of the series is still the ongoing battle between Harry and Voldemort.
The fact is, literary and commercial writing are simply different animals. One is not "better" than the other. They serve completely different purposes. That is the end of the story.
There is something that tends to go unsaid in this debate, and today, I'm going to say it.
This resentment between commercial authors and literary authors comes down to one thing--Intellectual Snobbery. There is a pervading attitude among the literary set that literary writing and its writers are simply smarter. Many literary sorts believe commercial writing is just that--commercial. Common. Base. Dumbed-down. For the mass of mindless drones that occupy this quickly degrading chunk of rock, who wouldn't know a simile if t hit them in the forehead....
To that I say, Bleh. No. Not so.
I am perfectly capable of dissecting a deep and meaningful literary book. I love the messages behind books such as The Picture of Dorian Grey. I do savor the wording of much beautifully constructed prose...but nine times out of ten, I read a book because I want to be sucked into story. I want to be lost in another world.
That, folks, does not decrease my intelligence. And commercial writers and readers do not like being looked at as lesser, as inferior, as dumb. Your abstractness does not make our straight-forwardness less interesting, or less intelligent. There, I said it.
I'm not deluding myself, though...the battle will most assuredly rage on.